August is the month of wild flowers appearing along road sides
Almost every day a different wild flower appears along the road sides. August is the month when yarrow, tansy, goldenrod, monarda, evening primrose, mullein, Joe-Pye weed, Queen Ann’s lace, touch-me nots, etc. make up the “Master’s Garden”. Many women and men, including Mary Alice, have flower gardens, in which they spend quite a bit of time and energy in keeping their gardens looking beautiful; however, nature’s flowers appear effortlessly and haphazardly.
At the same time the fall flowers are appearing, the spring flowers have set their seeds and are beginning to die back. Spring flowers are mostly small and delicate, while fall flowers are usually large, with heavy stalks. The reason for the difference is that spring flowers have had only a short time to grow, and fall flowers had all summer to grow.
One plant that blooms in August is Joe Pye weed, which can grow up to six feet in height. If the plant’s stems are bruised, a vanilla scented odor is emitted. The upper leaves are tinged with purple even before the flowers begin to bloom. The flowers, which are also slightly fragrant, grow in a terminal cluster that is made up of many small mauve colored flowers.
The plant was named after an elderly Native American, who lived in rural New England. Butterflies are the most frequent visitors to the tubular flowers of the Joe Pye weed. Some bees and flies are also able to get nectar from the deep flowers. An interesting fact about the Joe Pye weed is that if the plant is not cross pollinated by insects, it is able to cross pollinate itself. The Joe Pye weeds blooms until the first frost occurs and then disappears.
Another plant blooming now is yarrow, which was brought to America by the early colonists and introduced to the Native Americans. However, the yarrow spread rapidly, and before long, the farmers considered the plant a weed. The cattle would not eat the plant because of its bitter taste, which was caused by the tannin in the leaves. The name yarrow comes from the Anglo-Saxon word gearwe, meaning to be prepared or ready. Yarrow was believed to be a defense against all ills.
The scientific name of yarrow is Achillea millefolium. According to legend, the genus name Achillea is from the Greek hero Achilles, who always had the plant with him to treat wounded soldiers. The species name of millefolium is also Greek, meaning a thousand leaves, describing the feathery foliage.
Our wild flower plants follow different rules; for example, chicory flowers open early in the morning, and by afternoon, their flowers are closed. In comparison, the evening primrose flowers are closed for most of the day, and then, as the name suggests, the flowers open later in the day. Most wild flowers are cross pollinated, either by insects or wind; however, some plants (touch-me-nots) have a failsafe system, in which they pollinate themselves. Certain wild flowers (mullein) take two years to grow; while others bloom during their first year.
Almost everyone recognizes the cattail plants that grow in clusters in marshy areas all over North America. The cattails have male and female flowers on the same plant. During August, the male yellow flower (the spike on top) becomes a powder that drifts golden pollen down onto the female flower (the familiar green cylinder). After releasing its pollen, the male flower dies, leaving a bare spike at the top of the plant. After this occurs, the densely packed female flower turns brown. The brown cylinder will then burst open and release the seeds that, in some large cattail heads could contain as many as two million seeds packed tightly inside. These small seeds are carried by the wind, suspended from fine silky hairs. Those seeds landing in favorable areas will become next year’s cattail plants.
The mullein flower also appears in August and is one of our easiest plants to identify. It is a plant that takes two years to mature. The name mullein comes from the Latin word mollis, which means soft, referring to the first year’s growth of a basal rosette made of soft flannel-like leaves. During the second year, the plant can grow to a height of six feet or more, with the flowers growing down the stem. This stem is stout and can be either branched or not. Mullein is a stingy plant, only having several flowers bloom at a time.
Our evening primrose has spread east from the Midwest prairies. The scientific name is Oenthera biennis. This genus can be divided into two distinct groups: those that open in the evening and those that open when the sun is shining. The evening primrose, which belongs to the first group, opens at dusk when the scent becomes much stronger because they are pollinated by night-flying insects. Only a few blossoms open each evening, and after opening, the petals drop off. If not pollinated during the evening, the flowers will stay open for a while during the morning, waiting for a visit from a daytime insect. When the end of the season is near and many seeds have been set, the flowers tend to stay open all day long.
The “Master’s Gardens” are not only beautiful but interesting as well.